Two days after the New Hampshire primary, the November results are a foregone conclusion: Local TV stations will be the big winners this election season.
Sure, broadcast and cable outlets in Boston and New Hampshire enjoy a windfall every major election cycle, but this year the billionaires are kicking in the big bucks. Anyone who has spent any time in front of a TV knows the rich guys have taken over the airwaves. Locally, Tom Steyer spent about $17.8 million on ads, and Michael Bloomberg about $5.6 million, according to Advertising Analytics, a nonpartisan firm that tracks ads. (Nationally, the numbers are also jaw dropping, but more on that later.)
“You have two billionaires who are clearly OK spending their own money. That is a unique situation that throws off the balance of the flow of ‘normal political business,’ ” said John Link, vice president of sales and marketing at Advertising Analytics.
Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York City, wasn’t even on the New Hampshire ballot, but he still outpaced Senator Bernie Sanders, whose campaign poured $5.3 million into broadcast TV and cable ads for the New Hampshire primary.
Close behind Sanders was Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Ind., whose campaign and VoteVets political action committee combined spent about $5.2 million.
Much of the advertising money, by the way, went to Boston TV stations, because to reach New Hampshire viewers you need to buy the Boston market.
It was surprising how little Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren and former vice president Joe Biden spent on New Hampshire primary TV ads. Warren committed about $1.5 million, and Biden (factoring in the Unite the Country political action committee) spent about $1 million, according to Advertising Analytics.
Compare that with Deval Patrick, the former Massachusetts governor, who made a hard run at New Hampshire voters with about $1.9 million in TV ads, nearly all bankrolled by the Reason to Believe political action committee. It didn’t make much of an impact, however, and on Wednesday, Patrick decided to pull the plug on his late-start campaign.
One of the looming questions going forward is whether money can buy love for the remaining contenders. The two billionaires are putting that to the test.
In Iowa and now in New Hampshire, the answer has been a resounding no for Steyer. The former hedge fund manager from California may have spent the most on TV ads for the Granite State primary, but he placed only sixth with 3.6 percent of the vote. That comes out to about $1,671 per vote.
Sanders got a bigger bang for his buck. The Vermont senator won the primary with 25.7 percent of the vote, which comes out to about $70 for each one. But it was Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar who made an outsized return on her $1.6 million investment in TV ads. She placed third, having spent about $27 per vote.
Nationally, Bloomberg, a media mogul, has so far dropped about $357 million on TV ads, a figure that is expected to rise to $700 million to $800 million by Super Tuesday on March 3, according to Advertising Analytics. Bloomberg skipped the early primaries and caucuses and will be on the ballot for the first time on March 3 when voters in 14 states, including Massachusetts, hold their primaries. That could make the Massachusetts primary a competitive one and push Bloomberg to blanket the local market with ads.
Steyer has spent close to $160 million this election cycle.
Both billionaires are also topping digital ad buys on Facebook and Google, according to Wesleyan Media Project, a nonpartisan effort that tracks political ads. Bloomberg has spent about $58 million and Steyer about $26 million.
But enough about politics. Let’s look at the bottom lines of TV outlets. Advertising Analytics had forecast about $6 billion in political TV ads nationally this cycle, from down ballot offices to the White House, but that was before Bloomberg entered the race. He has said he plans to spend $1 billion of his own money on the campaign.
In yet another windfall for TV stations, Bloomberg’s spending spree has already driven up advertising rates in certain markets. Advertising Analytics found that when Bloomberg bought $38 million in ads during one week in November to announce his candidacy, rates in those markets increased by about 22 percent.
As the candidates move on to the primary in South Carolina and the caucus in Nevada, has the advertising bonanza also moved on beyond New England?
It all depends on whether New Hampshire becomes a swing state. If that’s the case, hold onto your remote control. We’re going to be blitzed.
Shirley Leung is a Business columnist. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.